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The meaning and origin of the expression: Have your guts for garters

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Have your guts for garters

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Have your guts for garters'?

To threaten to 'have someone's guts for garters' is to state the intention to do them serious harm. The threat isn't an actual and literal one and the overstatement of reprisal is meant to indicate humour, but with an indication that the threatened person has done something which has been something of an annoyance.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Have your guts for garters'?

The expression 'to have someone's guts for garters' originated in Tudor England.

At that time disembowelment was used as a form of torture and execution. The punishment of 'hanged, drawn and quartered' was on the statue book in England until as late as 1790. However, even then, the threat wasn't meant to be taken literally.

Have your guts for gartersAlthough the threat wasn't a real one it at least would have made sense then as garters were then worn by men as a way of holding up their stockings, a.k.a. hose. Garters aren't commonly worn now and the expression has followed them into relative obscurity..

In these more enlightened times the expression is limited to figurative examples like, "I don't want to tell Dad that I've scraped the car - he'll have my guts for garters".

A printed reference to 'guts for garters' appears in Robert Greene's The Scottish Historie of James the Fourth, circa 1592:

Ile make garters of thy guttes, Thou villaine.

There are several other instances in the 16th/17th centuries of allusions to the use of someone's guts being made into garters - "Sir, I will garter my hose with your guttes" etc. The earliest use of the actual wording 'guts for garters' that I can find comes quite a long time later, in from a piece by William Curry, in The Dublin University Magazine, 1843:

I'll butter my knife in him, and give him his guts for garters.